Speech Delay: Should You Be Worried?
Although it may sound scary, speech delays are actually quite common. In fact, up to 10% of all preschool-age children may experience speech delays. In many cases, these delays are just temporary and are caused by environmental factors. In the long run, as the brain catches up and adapts, these children grow out of their delays.
That said, parents shouldn’t just brush off any and all speech delays. Some delays may actually signal more serious conditions. To avoid your child’s speech delay from snowballing into a larger issue, here are some things to keep in mind.
What Is a Speech Delay?
First of all, a speech delay is not the same as a language delay, though they often overlap. Children with a language delay can enunciate words but may not be able to string them together well. Meanwhile, children with a speech delay understand how to use words, but they may not be able to sound them out clearly. Speech delays in children are arguably more identifiable as they have more physical manifestations.
Speech delays are also one of the most common developmental problems nationwide with over 40 million people diagnosed with this. As such, it is also one of the conditions that has led to a large demand for licensed therapists. From 2020 to 2030, over 15,000 job openings for speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are estimated to open yearly to keep up with demand.
This, in turn, has influenced current college curriculums. To keep up with therapist demand, contemporary programs in communication sciences and disorders are now designed to cover interdisciplinary studies. This includes a focus on everything from anatomy and special education to psychology. Even more nuanced areas of the field like swallowing and speech pathology are now integrated, too. Over time, this is expected to quell the shortage of SLPs, as more people are being diagnosed with speech delays. This means you don’t have to worry about finding help for your child, should you need it.
What Are Speech Delay Red Flags?
But just when is a speech delay worrisome? One way to determine if a delay is a cause for concern is if it manifests in the following ways:
By 15 months of age: If a child is unable to say simple words (like mama) clearly.
By 18 month of age: If a child prefers gestures over verbal communications.
By one year of age: If a child can only imitate speech rather than produce words organically.
By two years of age: If a child has an unusual tonality (like irregular stresses on the syllables) in their speech.
By three years of age: If a child’s primary caregiver is unable to understand more than 75% of their speech.
If you notice any of these in your child, it may signify a speech delay that needs immediate professional attention.
What Can a Speech Delay Signify?
On one hand, speech delays may be a symptom of other learning disabilities. This includes dyslexia, which is an impairment in the brain’s ability to translate text and language into understandable language. Often, delays in talking are among the early warning signs experts use to diagnose dyslexia in preschool children.
On the other hand, speech delays can be a result of more severe conditions like hearing loss or an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In some cases, ear infections and cerebral palsy can also cause damage to organs necessary for speech, thereby causing delays. Understandably, if left unattended, these conditions can progress into life-altering issues that can affect your child, mentally, physically, and socially.
Where to Seek Help
Thankfully, there are many resources to help children with speech delays. Aside from the aforementioned therapists, parents and guardians can also connect with state-funded programs and school initiatives. Some options to consider include the Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP), wherein specialist teams help develop a personalized plan provided until age three. This covers parent training, therapy, and special equipment.
From the age of three onwards, parents can still receive help via their local public schools. Since speech disorders are included in specific learning disabilities, this makes children eligible for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504. Through this effort, your child can receive help that will aid them in their studies and treatment.
Ultimately, though, speech delays, in general, shouldn’t be met with worry. Rather, they should be met with vigilance. In this way, you can more accurately determine if your child’s delay is slowly dissipating or progressing. Should your child be experiencing the latter, then your vigilance will mean they’ll get their diagnosis and treatment in a timely manner. Because speech delays can be a unique experience for both child and parent, don’t hesitate to ask for help. This may be the defining factor in getting your child the assistance they need.
Article written by Rachel Juliet
Exclusively for PATH